Posts by Bill Levisay:
Recently I had the pleasure to have one of my Bolthouse Farms leadership team partners ( and good friend) Zak spend some time with me in Atlanta! We have been “working our brains out” since well before we closed on buying back the company from Campbell’s last June and it was a real treat to have him stop by and stay at my house and for us to work together from my home office a few weeks ago. He was routing through Atlanta, coming from one of our customer’s annual conferences and shared a number of headlines from his time there. One theme came from the main stage presentation of the conference when the speaker commented that to be successful, one needed to have ….” A militant commitment to the basics!” This phrase has really stuck with me over the past few weeks. It is highly pertinent to the situation that I find myself in today in my work at Bolthouse Farms and it rings VERY true as I reflect on my career over the past 30+ years. I want to take a few moments today to dig into this concept, and do a bit of exegesis as we explore its elements.
Militant: adj. “Aggressively active, (as in a cause)
So many businesses need 100% attention, focus and energy and the business we bought last June is a perfect example. The previous management team was focused on “selling the business”, not “running the business” and the the recent business results tell the tale! NO business nor organization runs on auto pilot and ALL businesses and organizations need intense, active focus. The concept of being “militant” or “aggressively active” feels so apt and appropriate… we as leaders should not aspire to JUST be active, we need to work on being “aggressively active” in our work and actions!
Commitment: noun. “an act of committing to a charge or trust”
At any level in an organization, we are NOT taking a role to only partially commit to the work required. If we are in a role, and this is especially true for leaders, we need to be 110% INTO the role and the work required. Especially when times are tough, or when business results are challenged (both ringing true for me today,) we need to check ourselves and insure that we are 110% “committed” to the role/work/team/budget/challenges that lie ahead. We can’t control so many things in the landscape of our work, but we CAN control our own levels of “commitment!”
Basics: noun. “something that is foundational or fundamental”
It is so easy, especially when things are troubled or challenging in business to look for a new approach or strategy to change trends and drive future success. While certainly needed and appropriate at times, it is ALWAYS appropriate to dig or grind into the fundamentals or foundational elements of a business. I have found that after being away from Bolthouse Farms for over 4 years, I have needed to dig back into the “basics” of the business to really understand where we are and where we need to go!
I am very appreciative that Zak shared this message from the customer convention and I am very appreciative and committed to our partnership along with the other leaders at Bolthouse Farms! All of us would do well to dig into these words and this theme and to push ourselves to bring them alive every day. I hope that you leaders reading this essay can find an idea or an approach to bring alive in your organizations and i am confident that taking a “militant commitment to the basics” will serve you well on the challenges that lie ahead!
It’s been three months since we closed on the purchase of buying Bolthouse Farms back from Campbells and what a ride! The work has been beyond intense, the team dynamics inspiring on the whole to say the least, the short term business challenges have been extreme ( products of very poor business decision making by the past Campbells management team, but more on that later!!) and the list goes on….
I am so happy to be in this role, at this moment in my professional life, but it’s quite a challenge on all fronts. After more than 34 years in business, and after having spent 6 years here before ( 2009-2015 as Chief Customer Officer) the business issues & challenges are certainly requiring me to bring “all I have” to bear on what we have to handle. I am humbled to have the chance to play a key leadership role at this moment in the 104 year history of Bolthouse Farms and am ready for the twists and turns in the months/quarters and years ahead!
In that spirit of humility, I pass along this story coming from a visit from none other than Bill Bolthouse Jr. , the historic leader of this company and the 4th ( it could be 5th??) generation of Bolthouse Family members that have lead this company from a small family farm in Grant Michigan to a leader in the produce industry today. He and a number of his team members came to visit us in Bakersfield recently; he wanted to see the plant and connect with us as the the current leadership team who have the job to fix a ton of damage caused to the business by Campbells over the past few years. We spent an hour or so in one of our conference rooms, reconnecting and talking about the challenges we are facing and our plans for the path forward before he and his team went on a plant tour. Bill was very respectful and pretty quiet throughout the meeting. After one discussion of a particularly bad decision made by Campbells regarding acreage planning, he blurted out that ….” you’re first loss is often your best loss!” I had never heard that phrase before but in this circumstance , and in so many, it is deeply true!
The specific situation he commented on occurred not quite a year ago when the historic Campbells management team started to realize that they were “long on acres.” The farms ag team came forward to write-off the extra acres and adjust the planting plans for the winter. While it would have had a significant negative P&L impact ($1-$2mm), it was clearly the right decision to make at the time ( remember this as the “First loss”.). Instead, the management team in all its hubris pushed forward with the original planting plan and pushed the organization to “fix it.” Well, right before closing that one decision grew from a $1-$2mm problem to a $10-$12mm mess …. all created because the historic leaders couldn’t see that “your first loss is often your best loss.”
When we talked about that story to Mr. Bolthouse, he talked about how hard that lesson is to learn, but how true it is in agriculture ( and in business broadly!) We all need to work on our ability to recognize when we need to take the “first loss” and not try to push/force/manipulate/etc. the situation to create an outcome that will never come to pass. This is about judgment, patience and perspective and how to deploy them as leaders, not anger, impatience and hubris as failed leadership traits. The next time you are facing a tough situation that might produce a challenging “loss,” pause for a moment and ask yourself if this is might actually be a good “first loss” to accelerate into action!